Desert Towns, Tombs and Temples
New Valley Governate
The Western Desert
February 28, 2020
The Western Desert of Egypt is alive with splendid scenery, agriculture, friendly local folks, and fascinating archeological sites.
Here are the descriptions of two ancient sites near the oasis town of Dakhla: the Egyptian Necropolis of Al Muzwaqa and the Roman Temple Deir el-Hagar
Necropolis of Al Muzwaqa
The Necropolis of Al Muzwaqa translates as “the wonderfully decorated tombs.” They are located north of Mut village near Deir El Hagar. The Necropolis was discovered in 1908 by the American archeologist Herbert Winlock during his excavation missions in the Western Desert of Egypt.
This Necropolis consists of 300 rock hewn tombs, most of them not yet unearthed or studied. The Necropolis is famous for two tombs: the tomb of Padi Osiris and the tomb of Padi Bastit from the 1st and 2nd centuries. Both tombs have finely preserved wall paintings. They contain all the components of the traditional tombs of ancient Egypt. This includes offerings to the deceased, funerary processions, and the gods watching the deceased entering the afterlife.
Temple Deir el-Hagar
Deir el-Hagar, the "Monastery of Stone" is a sandstone temple on the western edge of Dakhla Oasis, about 10km from el-Qasr in the desert to the south of the cultivation. In ancient times it was known as the "Place of Coming Home" or "Set-whe."
After being buried in debris and sand for many centuries by the huge dune that can still be seen to the south, the temple has been uncovered, restored and partially reconstructed during the 1990's by the Dakhla Oasis Project with the Supreme Council of Antiquities and is now open to visitors.
The temple of Deir el-Hagar represents one of the most complete Roman monuments in Dakhla Oasis. Olaf Kaper of the Dakhla Oasis Project suggests that this isolated site was a festival temple rather than a cult temple which are usually found in the centre of a community.
Dedicated mainly to the Theban Triad and to Thoth, construction of the temple began during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 CE) whose cartouche can be seen in the sanctuary. It was built to encourage farmers to settle in the area. Irrigation works, villages and the mudbrick Roman farmsteads can still be seen in the area surrounding the temple.
Nero’s successor Vespasian (69-79 CE) added decoration to the sanctuary. Titus (79-81 CE) added the porch and finally Domitian (81-96 CE) decorated the doorways and the monumental gateway. Other Roman rulers have contributed to the decoration, with the latest inscription in the temple dating to the 3rd Century.
The temple building measures 7.3m by 16.2m and has a well-preserved outer mudbrick enclosure wall where remains of painted plaster can still be seen. The main gateway is in the eastern side of the enclosure wall. Another gateway to the south, in the temenos wall of the sanctuary, depicts Greek inscriptions and graffiti written by early travellers who wanted to record their visits to this sacred place.
During the 19th Century travellers began to visit Deir el-Hagar. Many incised their names high on the columns and walls of the porch, an indication of the level of sand fill at that time.
On a column in the columned hall are the incised names of the ill-fated expedition led by Gerhardt Rohlfs in January 1874. This expedition travelled to the west of Dakhla into the Great Sand Sea but they had not anticipated the size and extent of the huge sand dunes. After three days they had to turn back and take a more northerly route to Siwa.
In 1874 Remale cleared sand from the sanctuary. In 1908 Winlock published the first extensive description of the temple and during the 1960's, Ahmed Fakhry excavated in front of the porch.